Monday, July 6, 2009

Your own personal "Google"

The outcome of a Sudoku game, the Japanese puzzle, can be fully predetermined with as few as 17 given numbers out of a possible 81. Puzzle solvers place the numbers 1 to 9 so that in each of nine vertical columns, nine horizontal rows and nine 3 x 3 grid boxes, all numbers are represented, once and only once.

It is all because of an underlying pattern within the system that ensures a predetermined (deterministic) outcome rather than a chance (probabalistic) outcome.

When you plan the match game nim, featured in the 1962 movie L'année dernière à Marienbad (1961) the task is to remove as many matches as you wish from any row, but only one row during your turn. The last person forced to pick up a match, loses the game. But the reality is, that when both players know how nim works, the person who goes second will always win, because the winner merely has to leave behind even numbers of binary clumps of matches, 2^0, 1^1, 2^2, or when the game is reduced to three rows, one match in each row, the only rule that defies the binary clump rule.

If you are faced with these combinations you will be forced to pick up the last match:

In bridge, when the cards are dealt and a suit is decided, there is a precise order in which the cards must fall in order to win the hand, otherwise your partner can become very annoyed when you either play the cards in the incorrect sequence or over/underbid your hand.

The human brain often works this way. There may be 100 billion neurons (10^17) and 100 trillion snyapses (10^14), but ask a person a closed question and your left frontal lobes brain will help deliver a single automatic, predetermined response. You don't have to go searching through all the other possible combinations and permutations. That could take forever.

On the other hand, brains can also remain open to a wider range of possibilities, because our right frontal lobes are designed to quickly explore the best combinations. For example, if you ask a person a rich open-ended question your own personal Google will respond in a few seconds with a whole variety of possibilities from which to choose or make sense.

Fortunately, for our convenience, brains deliver up a selection of the most likely possibilities rather quickly, together with incoming data from all the senses. If the brain's response was too slow, you could easily become a predator's meal by the time you worked out whether it's a tiger or just the shadows.

So the next time, when you are absolutely certain that you are right, you may not be. You may merely have recalled a predetermined response, which was right for you, back then, but maybe not now. And although there may be many other people whose brains work the same way this may lull you into a false sense of security. You may all be wrong, especially if the rules of the game have changed.

Like right now! Because, as we make the transition from a Knowledge Age world to a Wisdom Age world all bets are off!

Here's a workshop to exercise your own personal "Google":

1. Make a list of 10 things that you know.
2. Make a list of 10 things that you don't know.
3. Why might it be useful to distinguish between what we know and what we don't know?
4. Describe 2 different ways you could acquire knowledge.
5. Brainstorm at least 5 examples of UNRELIABLE ways of acquiring knowledge. Explain why what you learn may be unreliable.
6. Brainstorm at least 5 examples of RELIABLE ways of acquiring knowledge. Explain why what you learn may be reliable.
7. Consider for a moment Encyclopedia Britannica (compiled by experts) and Wikipedia as source of knowledge (compiled by anyone). In what ways might they be reliable/unreliable and why?
8. Make a list of methods you could use to improve your confidence in the reliability of knowledge.
9. How would you know whether what you think you know is an automatic response that might be culturally acquired?
10. How could you keep an open mind? How could you train your brain to detect erroneous beliefs or a shift in the rules of the game?
11. What is the difference between "being knowledgeable" and "being wise"?

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